English lessons boost Dubai worker’s confidence

A weekly reading class near her labour accommodation in Al Quoz area has made the difference for Margaret Nabatanzi, 26, a Ugandan national, and dozens of others, who struggle to communicate in English.
Margaret Nabatanzi, a Ugandan bus attendant, is taking part in an reading programme that aims to help employees gain confidence and improve their skills. Reem Mohammed for The National
Margaret Nabatanzi, a Ugandan bus attendant, is taking part in an reading programme that aims to help employees gain confidence and improve their skills. Reem Mohammed for The National

DUBAI // It took three weeks for Margaret Nabatanzi to go from a shy bus attendant too nervous to speak, to a confident person who steps forward to help others.

A weekly reading class near her labour accommodation in Al Quoz area has made the difference for Ms Nabatanzi, 26 – a Ugandan and native Luganda speaker – and dozens of others who struggle to communicate in English.

“I couldn’t speak to people. I was a shy girl who couldn’t raise my hand to even ask a question. But now I stand up and ask for the opportunity to speak, I can read out loud and can even make a speech,” said Ms Nabatanzi.

Reading out words such as “write” and “right” from a whiteboard and learning that the homonyms sound the same but differ in meaning and spelling has helped her to understand the language.

“I could read but I was not confident even when reading to myself.

“So I thought ‘how could I ever talk before a group of people?’ When I saw the opportunity of the English class, I made a decision to take it. Now, I have gained so much confidence.”

This is the first year for the reading programme, which is run by non-government organisation SmartLife, with about 80 students of varying ability levels in three centres in Dubai.

“We hope to teach blue-collar workers to develop reading as a habit,” said Manjula Ramakrishnan, spokeswoman for SmartLife.

“We are not focusing on grammar or the nitty-gritty of the language, but want to get them comfortable with speaking.

“Many read in their native language and want to read well in English. It is also good for day-to-day requirements, such as when they go to the doctor they can clearly explain whether their symptoms are a fever or a cold. It helps their self-esteem.”

The classes comprise an hour of reading with the next 60 minutes focused on interactive spoken English.

Ms Nabatanzi finished secondary school, but lack of money and the need to support her family prevented her going on to university.

She hopes her new-found confidence will help her to communicate with students and teachers in her job as a bus attendant. “I can talk to the children and teachers without any fear in me. Before, I was always worried about what to say if anyone addressed me.”

Others shared similar concerns in weekly classes, which are divided into junior and senior sections based on ability.

“I was very scared to speak in the class because I did not know what to say or what I would be asked,” said Sanu Sami, a Nepali bus assistant who speaks Hindi and studied until Grade 10 in Kathmandu in her native Nepali language.

“I’m practising so I understand the pages and stories. When I don’t understand, inside me, I know if I keep trying, I will learn properly.”

For Ms Nabatanzi, who was previously more comfortable speaking in her native tongue than in English after arriving in Dubai from Kampala a year ago, her experiences shape her explanation of words to others.

Asked by the teacher to explain what “present” meant to her, she told a group of women: “‘Present’ does not mean a gift that you give. You have to work in your past so that you can have a bright now. Present is the chance, the time to change your life. If you have been living a life of mistakes, you better change in the present. We must learn to appreciate life because what we do now will determine our tomorrow.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: September 16, 2016 04:00 AM

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